Restaurant review: Ox Club, Leeds city centre

Ox cheek.
The Ox Club, Headrow House, Leeds.  4 March 2016.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Ox cheek. The Ox Club, Headrow House, Leeds. 4 March 2016. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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It’s a sunny Bank Holiday Saturday night when Oliver makes his way into the city centre for dinner, and the buzz at Headrow House as we arrive makes it apparent how well this former textile mill has woven its way into the city’s eating and drinking scene in the few months since its launch.

There’s a queue three deep at the cocktail bar on the second floor, and the upstairs rooftop terrace is heaving - though that may be something to do with the unfamiliar yellow orb hovering nervously in the sky.

Ox Club is the brainchild of the men behind the successful Belgrave Music Hall

Ox Club is the brainchild of the men behind the successful Belgrave Music Hall

Outside, between the building itself and The Headrow outside, wood fired pizzas are being hawked from a stall and seemingly selling well. Throw in the beer hall offering unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell and you’ve basically got a theme park for the city’s hipsters.

Ox Club, described as a “contemporary solid fuel grill restaurant showcasing the best of Yorkshire produce”, is arguably the most low-key of its offerings, at least at first glance.

The restaurant puts you in mind of a bigger budget version of The Swine That Dines, a few minutes walk out of town on North Street. Each has a relatively small menu, though with loving care and attention to detail put into each dish, and the talented kitchen staff beavering away in full view.

Much like its porcine-themed rival, the emphasis is on simplicity and great execution in the Ox Club’s menu and its general appearance.

Lemon meringue pie.
The Ox Club, Headrow House, Leeds.  4 March 2016.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Lemon meringue pie. The Ox Club, Headrow House, Leeds. 4 March 2016. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Its hardly a surprise that the place is already doing a roaring trade, it being the creation of Simon Stevens, Ash Kollakowski and Ben Davy, whose other local successes include the rarely-less-than-excellent Belgrave Music Hall.

There are only a few tables in the joint, and nothing flash about the decor. A big bag of onions lies next to one of the counters, ramming home the impression that at Ox Club, it’s all about the food.

On the menu, which the restaurant’s founders say is designed to be shared, there are small plates, between the £3 and 6.50 mark, and side dishes costing between £2.50 and £4.

The mains are between £8.50 and £12, but more importantly have all come into contact with the star of the Ox Club show, the mighty Grillworks grill, a fearsome hand-built solid fuel machine imported from Michigan and one of only three in its kind in the UK.

The Grillworks grill at Ox Club is imported all the way from Michigan in the USA.

The Grillworks grill at Ox Club is imported all the way from Michigan in the USA.

It might have a hint of the medieval torture chamber about it, but it does some pretty wonderful things to the locally-sourced meat and fish which rests in its smoke and flames.

Ox cheek, served with pale, creamy flageolet beans to balance out the rich flavour and a bacon jam offering a hint of salty sweetness, didn’t so much fall apart on the fork but leap from it into the mouth, such was its tenderness.

The flat-iron steak, cut into slices, allowed to rest and served pink, is another success, and a great receptacle for the two sauces that come alongside it. The bearnaise is creamy and tangy by turns, and the salsa verde, a classic accompaniment for any summer dish, is so densely packed with herbs that it stands up on the plate.

All the food is served simply but with plenty of its own personality. Roughly-hewn hunks of fresh bread come with a ramekin of chicken dripping, whose intensity transports you back to the Sunday roasts of childhood.

My pheasant from the specials menu comes on a small plate and doesn’t take up much of it, but what is there delivers joy with each increasingly delighted mouthful.

The pheasant is nice and pink, tender with a bit of bite, and packed with flavour, though not too gamey to be off-putting.

Alongside it is a smear of dark and indulgent ‘burnt’ sauce. Against such titans of flavour, the small handful of girolle mushrooms strewn about the plate do their very best to make themselves noticed.

Scallops, cooked on coals and served with pink grapefruit and coriander, make for a delightful mouthful of food, both in terms of texture and flavour as the delicate, yielding mollusc flesh is brought to life by its more exuberant counterparts.

An unexpected pleasure is the cauliflower side dish, whose roasting and charring in the Grillworks, combined with nuts and pepper from a romesco sauce, give this unheralded vegetable the kind of makeover Trinny and Susannah would be proud of.

A dessert, described simply as ‘baked chocolate’, is a pleasant surprise, turning out to have the taste of a big fudge-like truffle and served with a slice of ever-so-moist orange cake. The lemon meringue pie looks superb, though once you bite into it the meringue itself is more gooey and less pillowy than I expected.

Though there are no great visual flourishes in the industrial decor, aside from blocks of wood to fire up the Grillworks grill, the general running of the place is very smooth on our visit.

Service is friendly without being in-your-face, but also precise - when I order another glass of wine it comes straight away. It’s noticeable that there are three waitresses serving a dining area that in other city eateries (mentioning no names) would probably only have one.

Having dashed out into the city centre to grab a tenner for a tip, our total spend is still just £81.50. Even taking into account one non-drinking diner (I had three glasses of wine for £6.50 each) that’s decent value for an evening of inventive, flavoursome food.

With a compelling-sounding brunch menu and a deal offering steak and chips with a drink for a tenner three nights a week, there are a few reasons to be tempted back. In a building where opportunities to eat, drink and be merry abound, it’s possible that Ox Club might be the best of the lot.

Address: The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 6PU

Website: www.oxclub.co.uk

Telephone: 07470 359961

Email: info@oxclub.co.uk

Opening hours: Brunch Saturday & Sunday 11am - 3.30pm. Evening sitting Tuesday - Saturday 5pm - 10pm

Food: 4/5

Value: 4/5

Atmosphere: 3/5

Service: 4/5

The Skyrack, left, and The Original Oak public houses at Headingley, Leeds.

Pub review: Original Oak, Headingley